Wait, what did she just say? Yeah, that’s right. STOP RECYCLING! Aren’t we on a sustainable living website? Is Annie out of her mind? Who is this crazy person? Yeah, well, I said it, STOP RECYCLING.
Okay, hear me out. Recycling is great; job creation to separate plastics, glass, aluminum to create something new, different – and just a little bit weaker. Every time a plastic bottle gets recycled, they can’t make it into the same thing; refining and cleaning the bottle, the next generation would come out just a little thinner, just a little weaker.
If you compare plastic bottles to recycled water bottles, the shape is different, the plastic is weaker and easier to crush. So what we do is we make it into something else. Like all those green carpeting systems, eco-friendly shirts, jeans, and even blankets made from plastic bottles. So why doesn’t that count as recycling?
Simply put, the energy needed to transform plastic into the whispy cotton-candy-like strands to make these things is energy expensive, carbon heavy and creates its own set of waste. These things are more down-cycled than re-cycled, since even recycled carpets and jeans are less durable and don’t last forever.
As it is, the refining process of plastic thins out the material so much that it’s very fragile. Most of it goes to make other items than what it initially was and the cost of refining plastic is energy high and income weak. This isn’t to say intentions aren’t in the right place, and by recycling, we’re not helping to save the planet – it’s better than nothing.
The point is, trash, in all it’s forms, is starting to take over the world, Pinky and the Brain style, but unfortunately, a bit more successful. And recycling is like putting a small bandage on a big cut. It might do the job for now, it certainly looks prettier, cleaner, but does it help enough? Probably not. In order to clean a cut, you don’t just need a bandage, you need something to clean it and antibacterial cream to protect from infections. So try out the other two for a while – see how you like it. It’s not as hard as it might seem!
Cradle to Cradle, by William McDonough and Michael Braungart, changes perceptions of recycling. Even with recycling, we live in a cradle to grave society. We use something, carry it through, and when it’s of no more use to us, we throw it out – put it in the grave. Living cradle to cradle is hard, and in some cases, near impossible…
How Can You Help? Limit the amount of plastic bottles, cans and glass you buy, and what you do buy. Try and look for groups that put it back into circulation. Buy things in reusable containers whenever possible and use them! Avoid buying plastic bottles – and reuse them if you do buy them, whether to hold water, as planters or even as creative organization systems for your house. For water, buy one of those really cool metal bottles, or a recycled, almost-impossible-to-break, BPA-free Nalgene and refill it! Tap water usually won’t kill you and filters do the trick with funny-tasting or less than clean water.
What does most of our food come in? Our toiletries? It’s all plastic, cardboard or tin packaging. Container-free stores are starting to pop up around the country – Rainbow Market in San Francisco and another in Austin, Texas. But for those of us not lucky enough to live near a package-free possibility? What can we do? Well, we can start by paying closer attention to the other two R’s: Reduce and Reuse. Contact buy back programs and see where they sell the glass or plastic bottles, and use those programs instead of the big blue (or black, or grey depending on where you live) bins the county gives you.
Encourage innovative and efficient compounds that encourage cradle to cradle recycling or reuse. But more than that? We can stop down-cycling and start up-cycling.
Most countries outside of the US and other parts of the first world reuse the glass bottles that hold sodas or beer – what if the first world started doing that, too? Beer companies would certainly save a lot of money if they encouraged that behavior – and imagine the impact on carbon emissions!
So Try Something New!